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Islamist Division in Sudan: Reality or Ploy? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (C) talks to Vice President Ali Osman Taha (C-R) in Khartoum on January 28, 2013 upon Bashir’s return from the African Union Summit. AFP PHOTO/EBRAHIM HAMID

There has been a lot of talk recently about deep divisions and rifts in the ranks plaguing the ruling Islamic Movement in Sudan, as a result of accumulating governance errors, corruption, and the inner circle’s monopolization of decision making. This is in addition to the struggle over who will succeed President Al-Bashir, which has intensified after reports of his illness that required him to travel abroad twice for treatment. Some aspirants from among the ruling party and Islamist Movement have rushed to take up advanced positions now, rather than waiting until the president’s term ends next year. Several issues came to a head after the regime announced it had thwarted a coup attempt late last year and arrested a number of military and civilian personnel responsible. It soon became clear to the people from their names that the perpetrators belonged to the Islamist movement and the ruling party. Indeed, some of them were among the most prominent fighters in the ranks of the regime who protected it on both the military and security levels. Then the pillars of the regime did their utmost to launch an attack on what they described as a coup and sabotage attempt, forgetting or overlooking the fact that they originally came to power via a military coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. This confirmed that political Islamist movements are sick with the desire for power, to the extent that they do not accept the practice of true democracy and do not believe in the concept of the peaceful transfer of power through the ballot box.

From here, the Sudanese people are divided. On the one hand there are those who believe the talk of an explosion of inherent differences, reaching the stage whereby they threaten the survival of the regime itself, after it became bloated and ravaged by the disease of power and domination. On the other hand there are those who dismiss this as the Islamists’ game of tricks to distract the people and absorb the rising popular anger in light of the severe economic crisis, the high cost of living, and the outrage towards corruption. These factors led to the streets of Khartoum, and a number of other Sudanese cities, witnessing a series of demonstrations and angry protests which the regime quelled with severe repression to prevent their spread. The Sudanese street remains motivated after the Arab Spring uprisings, which revived memories of their first popular revolution in October 1964 and then their second uprising in April 1985, both times overthrowing military regimes.

The coup attempt was revealed a few days after the Islamic Movement’s general conference, which was held this time amid unprecedented media clamor, after previous conferences had been held in secrecy and away from the media limelight. Much talk was leaked about sharp differences, calls for reform, disengagement between the party and the state, and even talk of reconsidering the overlapping relationship between the Islamic Movement and the ruling National Congress Party. This talk was seen as the culmination of a wider debate about the so-called “thousand brothers” memorandum, allegedly put forward by groups of youths within the movement and some of its “reformist” elders, to President Bashir, vice president Ali Osman Mohammed Taha, who is referred to as the “emir of the Islamic Movement”, along with other leading figures in the party, demanding a package of reforms. This memorandum was the talk of Sudanese councils for a few months and raised many questions and speculation that the regime failed to resolve with a clear statement, but rather it heightened this atmosphere with ambiguous, conflicting statements from a number of officials or those affiliated with the regime.

Yet the timing of the publishing of the memorandum contributed to an increase in uncertainty about whether the whole process is another maneuver or trick from the National Islamic Front, which has recently changed its name, not for the first time, to the Islamic Movement. The memorandum, as is rumored, was put forward in December 2011 after months of demonstrations that erupted in Sudan. These demonstrations had raised fears among some of those in power that the infection of the Arab Spring would be transferred to Khartoum, especially in the aftermath of the secession of the south, which the Bashir regime considered responsible for the protests and their consequences. From this standpoint, the memorandum, at least for those skeptical of the regime, seemed like an attempt to contain the popular anger or save the regime from itself by calling for internal reform rather than regime change. However, on the other hand there were those who believed that the regime had already begun eroding as a result of its bloated and corrupt nature, and the sense of marginalization among many of the movement’s youth. There were also strong feelings of anger among a number of military leaders who had borne the brunt of the fighting and had defended the regime for many years, only to see their sacrifices wasted because of in-fighting and squabbles over the spoils of war. In this context there appears to be a link between the “thousand brothers’ memorandum and another one allegedly signed by 700 officers in the armed forces, where the vast of majority of recruits are from the Islamic Movement or at least sympathize with it. The latter memorandum was submitted to President Bashir in October 2010 to demand that the path be rectified and to bring his errors to his attention. Some of these signatories were also among those arrested in the coup attempt in Khartoum at the end of November last year, with the most prominent signatory, Brigadier General Mohammed Ibrahim, being detained and considered the leader of the alleged coup.

There are strong indications that the differences within the corridors of power are not entirely artificial. It is true that some may have been manufactured by the security services or from inside the Islamic Movement, but this does not deny the fact that some stem from varying views, or from the struggle for influence and positions. The problem is that those at odds with the regime want to salvage it rather than overthrow it, and even if they resort to a military coup they just want to reproduce the regime in a new guise that guarantees their stay in power for God knows how long. Even for those who disagree among themselves, the survival of power within their hands remains the goal. How else can we explain the remarks of the Islamic Movement’s new secretary general, AL-Zubair Ahmed Hassan, who said that he would work to reunite the Islamists in the National Congress Party and the People’s Congress Party, the latter led by Turabi. He added that if he failed in doing so, then it could in fact be in the interests of Islam in Sudan for the two parties or congresses to remain independent, because it may allow them to succeed one another.

Such talk clearly demonstrates the intention of the Islamists in Sudan to cling onto power, even if they disagree about the exact style or direction, because in the end they are merely different schools of thought within a single movement. Sudan’s experience and evidence shows that the Islamists only care about staying in power, even if they end up losing the rest of the country.